Southwest & Tech Complacency

6 min readJan 2, 2023

I don’t know all the details or facts about the what we witnessed with the Southwest Airlines meltdown over the holiday period. All I am reacting to is what I have been hearing reported on the news. But as I watch these reports and hear the experts talk about the causes of the meltdown, I am hearing some key aspects of it that ring alarm bells in my head. Alarms caused by hearing similar stories when we talk to companies about potentially helping them at Younite-AI. Stories where complacency around an approach to technology, and ongoing investment in it, results in the opposite desired business results, sometimes disastrously.

Observations of Southwest

At first, everything to me seemed like yet another holiday travel nightmare, the one reason I personally try and stay away from traveling at these times of the year. However, this year (2022) that already stressed travel network was further stressed by crazy weather that was freezing up large parts of the States. Crazy weather that, I venture to guess, will occur more and more often in the future.

As the reports of the travel problems increased, more focus went on Southwest specifically, as the problems their customers were coping with seemed far greater and more disruptive. Cancellations, staffing issues, customers bags all over the place, the list goes on. Eventually the headlines have started to be replaced with “Tech Meltdown”. But listening to more from these experts I am also hearing about how much a leader in the airline industry Southwest once was.

Supposedly, at one point in time, they had the best technology systems around for managing their staff etc. and their proprietary technology put them ahead of the curve and seen as a the darling of the airline industry. I can’t speak to what that technology is/was, or even when it was at its peak of greatness. But, assuming these experts are correct, it highlights a common thread I have been hearing as we speak to companies about improving their business performance with technology tools and solutions.

Technology innovation creates a competitive advantage

Seems obvious to state, and it is. Innovation at its core is applying new approaches, technology or otherwise, to familiar problems to reimagine solutions and redefine how things work better. It comes with supposed risks. As an innovator you don’t necessarily know the extent of any positive outcome. But you go into the exploring of an opportunity with your eyes wide open, accepting the risk of not pursuing innovation meaning mediocrity and, at best, maintaining the status quo. The ability to embrace these leaps of faith are often easier for smaller, younger, and more nimble companies. The consequences of failing are far less than that of a larger more established organization where ripple effects of decisions are far greater. But thats also the reason we see so many young guns launching themselves into the world and blowing an industry up to become the big players, sometime almost overnight, toppling the long time giants that have languished at the top for decades.

Competitive advantage has a half-life

Similar to Southwest, we have spoken to companies that have talked up their competitive advantage. Or to be more exact, the competitive advantage they once enjoyed. Similar to Southwest, their competitive advantage that was driven by being a technology leader, creating new systems to manage companies, being the first in an industry to have, and therefore take advantage of, the technology they created. Similar to Southwest, although without the meltdown result, this competitive advantage that spring boarded these companies to the top of the tree in their respective industries has dwindled, and their market share has dropped with it. Fact is we live in an age where something new and owned is only an advantage for the short period of time it takes for the rest to analyze what was done, dissect and learn from the solution, and craft their own version. Although it will always be hard to follow this path and take back a majority market share from the “innovator”, even with results that may be technically better, it is easy to claw large parts of it back if the innovation you are striving to replicate stays stagnant. This levels the playing field over time again and sets the stage for the next great innovator to step up and take the advantage from everyone again.

“Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it. You’ve got one option now — to shoot first. You’ve got to out innovate the innovators.”
– Gary Hamel — Management Expert

Technology innovation is a persistent beast

As we have often said to our clients, the biggest cost to innovation is not embracing it and to cheap out on any investment in it. Sure, the price tag to exploring innovative solutions can seem like a large one. Often the outcomes don’t seem very definitive adding that little bit more uncertainty to exploring possibilities. But the fact is technology, and its increasingly accessibility, mean we have innovators in every industry, everywhere. If you sit tight and choose to assume the success you gained with the technology solutions you have in place today will persist forever, you’re dead in the water eventually.

Persistent innovation through “tools”

At Younite-AI, our collective careers as a team have seen innovation in all its forms. We also understand the lifecycle of innovation, the cost associated with it, and the ways those factors can be managed to create pathways to getting to the top, and staying there over time. It still requires the embracing of uncertainty, but also the “innovate or die” mentality. With Younite-AI, we aim to set our clients up with a comfortable bed to sink deeper and deeper into with a technology foundation that is set up to evolve and future proof the work we do for them, and the benefit they see. Then, rather than overhaul an industry, or even an organization, we look to disrupt as little as possible to maintain what does work today, and rectify what doesn’t work well with technology tools. As technology evolves, the landscape of opportunities for improvement within organizations evolves with it. This is why we see ourselves as a partner over a vendor. So we can travel the the technology ebb and flow together, leveraging our deep knowledge in new and emerging technology with our clients subject matter expertise of their own industries and organizations.

Younite-AI’s technology foundation gives us a future proofed technical base for growth, set up to iteratively develop tools and integrate them into an organizations core system over time, at a pace dictated by our clients.

Tools can be large or small. And its guaranteed that when looking at any company from any industry we can identify many, possibly even hundreds, of opportunities to create tools that result in better business performance and, ultimately, cost savings. Understanding what you are saving on makes the investment in exploring the technology tangible. There is far better understanding of when you will likely recoup the money invested in a technology tool and start seeing the money in the bank savings that will continue long afterward. We are also confident that these returns will comes faster than expected. By understanding how each individual tool plays into the journey of technology innovation of a company, the development and evolution of these tools over time will result in a manageable pathways to gaining a competitive advantage and, importantly, keeping that advantage.

Moral of the story?

Investing in technology is a must for any company looking to stay relevant for the long term. Ignoring it will be far more expensive.

At Younite-AI, we can help create a technology foundation and culture needed to embrace technology innovation and evolution. From there we partner to get organizations the competitive advantage they desire, and keep it, through less disruptive strategies of interconnected tool making that gives fast, and ever-growing ROI. Drop us a line.

About the Author:

Dave Papworth is the Creative Cultivator and Product Leader for Younite-AI. His career has taken him through multimedia, development, design, innovation, and ultimately Younite-AI.

While working in the advertising industry he led teams focused on technical innovation and how it can be leveraged for marketing campaigns and brand building platforms, creating forward-thinking projects that have been showcased at events like Googles Sandbox, and even recognized in Time Magazine as an “Invention of the Year”.

At Younite-AI, his focus is on building a team that can tackle any challenge, look beyond their boundaries, and grow the collaborative relationships we desire with our clients.




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